The Oceanside Dragon Boat team practises twice a week on Cameron Lake where they keep their boat at the Cameron Lake Resort.

New Dragon Boat team in Parksville training for its first race

Organizers say they wanted to create a team that’s open to people in the mid-Island region

They may be a new squad, but the Oceanside Dragon Boat team is off to a good start, according to Mary Connelly.

Connelly, who is one of three organizers, said this new dragon boating team only started early last month.

“We’re just new. We’ve only been in the water a month, so since

May 7, we’re real seasoned,” Connelly said with a laugh. She added that the team practices twice a week.

Connelly said she has been dragon boating since 1998. She added that she was one of the founders of the dragon boating team Abreast of Life based out of Nanoose Bay. Abreast of Life is a team made up solely of breast cancer survivors.

“As a breast cancer survivor,” Connelly said, “basically at that time it was a thread of hope that there is life after breast cancer, but you move forward and it’s giving back to the community because the community was the one that helped sponsor the breast cancer teams.”

Connelly, along with Louise Dawson and Leanne Parson, said they wanted a “local community team in our Oceanside area.”

Connelly said they applied for a grant through the Regional District of Nanaimo, and they were awarded the grant in January. But she added that they started looking into a dragon boat team last year around the late summer/early fall.

The dragon boat, which Connelly said was brought down from Port Hardy, arrived May 7 and the paddlers were in the boat and on the water that same day.

The team is a mix of men and women, according to Connelly, but she added that they’re still looking to fill up the boat. There are team members coming from Nanaimo and Port Alberni.

“In the boat, you actually have 20 paddlers and steers person and a drummer,” Connelly said.

Connelly said a few of the women paddled last year, but there are a few newbies.

“It works really well because your people that have paddled before help out new ones and every time you get a new person on we start over and that’s what it’s about. I mean, we’re a baby team,” Connelly said.

Connelly said if you work together on land, you will work together in the water.

“You don’t have to be good, you just have to have spirit.”

The team practises on Cameron Lake and keeps its boat at the Cameron Lake Resort.

“I came out to see if we could launch the boat here and talk to Louis (Verheyen) at the Cameron Lake Resort because we needed a place first to launch a boat,” Connelly said. “We checked out French Creek and other waters, and we just had to make sure that we were safe.”

Verheyen is the owner of Cameron Lake Resort, and he said when the women showed up to ask if they could use their space, he said he didn’t mind doing it.

“These people are doing good work. I’m glad that I can help out,” Verheyen said.

The dragon boat team has been a community effort, according to Connelly. She said someone from the resort gave a tarp to wrap up the boat, another person bought PVC pipes to help get the boat on and off the beach and the first time they took the boat out, Connelly said people watching on the beach helped to bring the boat in.

Connelly said there’s no goal for a race quite this early on.

“Our goal for this year was to really get enough paddlers to get in the boat, fill the boat, have fun and we might — at the end of the season — do a race,” she said, adding that if the team does plan to race it would be at the end of the summer in Port Alberni.

“You want to have a couple of months under your belt before you head to a race,” Connelly said.

At some point, Connelly said she would like to see youth and young adult teams practising and competing in the area.

To find out more about the team, or to join, call Connelly at 250-248-5824 or Dawson at 250-752-2535.

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